Communal distraction is a thing.
Exhibit A? Tiger King.
Distraction is a coping mechanism. It’s generally passive – and is a focus on something other than what is a primary concern. As someone who has had the occasional panic attack, I can attest that it can be a helpful tool. My hunch is that having a communal distraction or two (shiny!) these last five-and-a-half months has not been a bad thing, although Tiger King, bread-baking and closet reorganizing are sooo “early pandemic”. These things (and those that follow) distract us from a problem that we have no control over.
Distraction (communal and individual) becomes a problem when keeps our attention from confronting an issue where we have agency.
I know a Session that had debated what color to paint the women’s bathroom for months. They conducted a survey and then decided to bounce the decision to the women’s group (seeing as they would be the primary users). When the women’s group had selected a color (yet another survey as well as some political maneuvering) their decision came back to the Session which then began the heated debate about the appropriate finish (eggshell in a bathroom?!). The selection of the contractor went to the Buildings and Grounds committee whose Chair was not at the subsequent meeting of the Session and therefore couldn’t report their decision. By the time she was able to connect with the Session for final approval almost a year had passed since the discussion had started.
The bathroom was painted in a day.
Imagine what might have been done with the time and energy that was spent on that decision?
Imagine what conversations and confrontations they were able to avoid?
Yes. Communal distraction is a thing.
Exhibit B? Having the conversation about when to reopen the building every month.
So much energy has been sucked into this technical discussion by so many of our good folks that it makes me wonder what conversations we might be having instead. Don’t get me wrong, this is critical work for the safety of the communities we serve… but if this conversation dominates the meeting every month it might signal that it’s a distraction (if you’re not repeating this conversation, good for you! What are you talking about that really doesn’t need that much attention?)
If your Session made the decision that you’d not revisit opening the building until January 2021, what might you do with the time and energy to make the next few months a time of creative witness to the Gospel? Or what if the timing of reopening were connected to a specific indicator (www.covidactnow.org is a great resource for this), as well as a potential trigger for closing the doors? How can you make the opening/closing not only easy on your leadership but also free up the space to ask the questions you’ve been dodging – like “what have we learned about our congregation during this pandemic” and “what is our part in systemic racism?” and “were we spiritually prepared to be isolated, and if not, how might we work on that?”.
What are we avoiding that we have the power to confront?
Seek first the Kin-dom of God, my friends.